The Jakarta Post
The National Police have gained more confidence in hunting down terrorist groups to the last member, particularly after the death of the country’s most-wanted top terrorist leader Santoso.
The death of Santoso, the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) terrorist group, will change the course of counterterrorism efforts in the country because of the inclusion of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in the country’s counterterrorism operations.
Initial information on the death of Santoso, aka Abu Wardah, was released to the public on Monday evening after a firefight involving Santoso’s group and personnel of Operation Tinombala at Tambarana village in Poso, which ended with two terrorists being shot dead. One of them resembled Santoso.
The National Police eventually confirmed on Tuesday that Santoso was one of the two who were shot dead during the firefight. However, the National Police Disaster Victims Identification (DVI) team is still carrying out a DNA test to make sure.
Despite the success of Operation Tinombala, a joint team of the police and the TNI will remain at work until the MIT’s remaining leaders are hunted down.
The members of the MIT who are left in Poso, which according to the police are now fewer in numbers since the operation was launched, are believed to be divided in three groups: first was led by Santoso, second by Basri and third by Ali Kalora.
“We are continuing the operations and at the same time carrying out measures to neutralize radical teachings and the campaign of violence there,” National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said.
Tito made assurances that Operation Tinombala would remain active until all three MIT leaders were captured or killed. He said the existing networks in Poso no longer possessed significant weapons, besides three or four dilapidated firearms and one homemade gun.
Tito believed the death of Santoso would also demoralize supporters of the Islamic State (IS) movement in Indonesia because Santoso was the symbol of “an open resistance against the government”.
The death of Santoso occurred amid the firefight that lasted from 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday and involved five people from Santoso’s group and members of Alpha 29, an Operation Tinombala task force team.
Operation Tinombala consists of 3,500 personnel from the police and the military. It has narrowed the terrorist group’s area and blocked its supplies.
Santoso initially had 45 followers, but the number was reportedly reduced to 14 following arrests and shoot-outs by security personnel. He got the police’s attention for the first time in 2004 when he was arrested for attempting to rob a truck carrying clove cigarettes with six other individuals.
He managed to escape and disappear, but was arrested in 2006 for robbing a boxcar in a coastal town of Poso. He spent a year in prison. He organized attacks against the police in the area since then and his group continued to grow larger and stronger.
Santoso established his MIT terrorist group in early 2013 in collaboration with his friend Daeng Koro.
Terrorism analyst Sidney Jones said Santoso’s death was indeed a significant achievement, but the director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) saw little impact of the success of hunting down Santoso on counterterrorism efforts in the country.
“It will not fundamentally alter the risk of violence that Indonesia faces because that risk comes from pro-IS cells in urban areas, especially in Java, and their mentors in Syria,” Sidney said.
The success of killing Santoso has apparently inspired lawmakers to grant more power to the TNI in counterterrorism through a revision of the Terrorism Law over assurance that the police cannot carry out the job alone.
Several lawmakers have expressed support to include stipulations to support the TNI’s role in the revision. A member of the House of Representatives Commission I overseeing defense, Maj. Gen (ret) Supiadin Aries Saputra from the NasDem Party, said the police’s counterterrorism squad, Densus 88, was not yet equipped with jungle warfare capabilities.
“It’s only the military force that has such a capability. This shows that we need to keep the joint operation to combat terrorism in the future,” Supiadin said.
Nurul Fitri Ramadhani, Ruslan Sangadji and Winny Tang also contributed to reporting
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